2nd death due to flooding in Platte County confirmed

March 20, 2019 GMT

An 80-year-old Columbus woman is the second person confirmed to have died due to recent flooding, the Platte County Sheriff’s Office announced on Sunday night.

Betty Hamernik, of rural Columbus, died after first responders were unable to access her home Thursday because of the fast water current, extremely high waves and gusting winds reaching speeds of approximately 60 mph, according to released information from the sheriff’s office.

On Thursday, March 14, the Platte County Sheriff’s Office was notified that Hamernik was trapped in her house with rising floodwaters from the Loup River.

Due to the extreme weather and flooding conditions, assets were requested through the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency to assist in her rescue, the office stated. That afternoon, the Lincoln Nebraska Rapid Water Rescue Team arrived in the area. The Rapid Water Rescue Team’s attempt to get to Hamernik’s home were unsuccessful.

When those attempts failed, air support was requested from the Nebraska National Guard to attempt rescue. Due to the medical nature of the victim, this request was authorized, the sheriff’s office stated. Additional attempts were made later that evening by the Air National Guard, which were again unsuccessful due to extreme weather conditions.

During the morning hours of Friday, March 15, the Air National Guard again attempted to reach the residence. After several attempts, a rescue crew, including a paramedic from the Columbus Fire Department, successfully gained entrance into the home. The rescue crew found Betty Hamernik dead in her home, however, this crew was unable to transport her from the dwelling, according to the sheriff’s office.

On Sunday, dive team members from the Platte County Sheriff’s Office were able to gain access to the residence and retrieved Hamernik’s body.

On Monday, several individuals offered their support, thoughts and prayers on the Telegram’s Facebook page.

“Extremely sad that a second life was lost,” Tami Van Berg Hoeger wrote. “Deb (deceased’s daughter), I am heartbroken for you losing your mom in such a tragic way.”

Hamernik’s death announcement came days after 50-year-old rural Columbus farmer James Wilke’s passing early Thursday morning. Wilke was driving his tractor northbound on the 175th Avenue Shell Creek Bridge about 3 miles north of Columbus when the structure gave way, sending Wilke and his tractor into the flood waters, as reported by The Telegram on Friday.

Attempts were made to locate Wilke, but the extremely high and fast moving floodwaters made all attempts futile at the time, according to the Platte County Sheriff’s Office.

A search party was established which patrolled both sides of the floodwaters in an attempt to locate Wilke. After some time searching, Wilke’s body was located and recovered.

Wilke was called a hero by those close to him for the selfless act that ultimately led to his untimely death. He was a go-getter, who never sat back idly when something needed to be done, people who knew him said.

“He was very generous, giving, very involved with everything,” Paul Wilke, James’ cousin, told The Columbus Telegram on Friday. “He has always been one who gets involved and gets things done.”

Both incidents remain under investigation by the Platte County Sheriff’s Office.

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.